Fuddy Meers is a decidedly quirky drama packed with scum-of-society lowlifes. Usually, a play populated with so little human inspiration is more than enough to make me write off that play (literally!). But if everything else works, all it takes to reverse that diagnosis is one splendid character to root for. And playwright David Lindsay-Abaire provides such a character.
In Long Beach Playhouse’s current production, Claire, played with a centered optimism and infectious likability by Rachel Levy, is a woman afflicted by a Groundhog Day sort of amnesia, wherein her life’s memories are gone each morning when she awakens. Thus she spends each day struggling to recall her past. Tom Juarez delivers an admirable keep-‘em-guessing complexity as Claire’s husband Richard. Deeply troubled teenage son Kenny is well played by Michael Dougherty, who capably pulls off the challenging emotional range of his role.
Fuddy Meers plays out over the course of a single day in Claire’s life. On that day, a limping, disfigured man (Stephen Alan Carver) enters the house claiming to be Claire’s brother and convinces her to go with him to the home of their mother Gertie (Geraldine D. Fuentes). Gertie, a stroke victim, has trouble with pronunciation. Hence, the play’s title, Fuddy Meers, translates to the “funny mirrors” found at a carnival fun house that distort reflected images.
At Gertie’s, yet another disturbing individual emerges in Millet (Bob Fetes). Fetes masterfully alternates between his character’s own obviously unbalanced persona and that of his foul-mouthed puppet Hinky Binky. His performance is remarkable.
The limping man and Millet seem to pose a clear danger to Gertie and Claire. Gertie tries in vain to warn Claire of the threat but can’t manage to communicate understandably. In the meantime, Richard and Kenny have set out to find Claire, revealing their own apparent emotional instabilities in the process. They also encounter a female police officer (Stephanie Schulz), who isn’t at all what she seems.
At this point, the play asks much of its audience, who are probably considering taking an early leave at intermission. But stay, as the second half begins to divulge the answers we seek, and the pay-off is more than worthwhile.
At the risk of sounding ridiculously cliché, Fuddy Meers amounts to a theatrical journey, and not a pleasant one. Furthermore, there seems to be a dearth of meaning and depth at the outset. Hence the mid-performance flight risk of the audience. But the play’s flawed souls are struggling to be better people, some more successfully than others. And a slowly revealed sense of conviction and purpose, as well as the ultimate disclosure of the startling truth behind Claire’s amnesia, make the play’s initial superficiality and unsettling evolution well worth enduring.
At the end of the day, Richard and Kenny beg an exhausted Claire not to go to sleep just yet. And we are unexpectedly moved by a heartening affirmation of committed and largely unrequited loyalty and love.
Robert Craig directs the excellent cast in this no-holds-barred production.
Fuddy Meers continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through Nov. 24. General admission tickets are $24. Senior tickets are $21. Student tickets are $14 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org .